Facing Today’s Thorns

Facing Today’s Thorns

Yesterday, I, along with many other people across the world, was furiously, violently angry. Whether I was righteously angry, only time will tell.  But I was angry – and I am not ashamed of that anger.

Why was I angry? Not, despite surface appearances, because someone whom, from what I’ve seen and heard of them, I intensely dislike, and think is a thoroughly reprehensible human being has been handed a job for which he has, from what I can gather, no experience or qualification.

I was angry for many reasons, but not “just because Trump got elected.”  Unqualified people get promoted to valuable, influential jobs all the time – if I got angry about that, I’d never get anything else done, and would have probably dropped dead from stress, a heart attack, or stomach ulcers by now.

1. I was angry because men like me – genuinely decent men, who were raised to treat women as equals, to accord them respect, to work with them in genuine partnership, to accept their answers, even when we didn’t like them – have been told, from possibly the most powerful country in the world, and, it turns out, by a significant number of women, that we’re “not real men.” Because real men grab pussy. Real men don’t respect women. Real men take what they want, and treat people like property. Real men are crass, violent, vulgar, and objectionable.  By those lights, I’m not a real man. My father wasn’t a real man. My uncle and cousins aren’t real men.  My best friend’s husband isn’t a real man.  My closest male friends aren’t real men.  The three best bosses I’ve known in my working life weren’t real men.  I am angry because America at large has invalidated the gender, identity, and personhood of many decent, hardworking, dedicated men – men I know personally, and men far beyond my circle. We may not always behave appropriately, but we always try to. We may not always be our best selves, but we always aim to be. We may not always give 100%, but that is always our intention.  And we have been told, loudly, clearly, whilst being  mocked for our “not-alpha-male” attitudes and behaviours, that it’s all a waste of time. That we’re just losers, destined to watch men who have no intention of trying to be good, of giving of their best, succeed.

2. I was angry because there are children – boys, girls, and non-binary young people – who have seen the lie in the words “bullies never prosper.” A generation will grow up thinking that bullying and demanding and indulging in violence is the way to get what you want.

3. I was angry because, yet again – just as it was with Brexit in the UK – intelligence has been mocked and derided. I’m sick of hearing “the people who do well in business are those who aren’t academic”,  “We’ve had enough of experts”,  “the wisdom of the crowd is what counts”, “Intellectuals, hiding away in their ivory towers…”  I’ve had enough of someone else’s opinion being held to have as much value as my factual knowledge or lived experience – or, indeed, anyone else’s factual knowledge or lived experience.  Certainly, those who have non-academic skills should be respected – I currently have no heating or hot water, and, while I could probably get a Shakespeare scholar for free, what I really need is a plumber, or a heating engineer – but I can’t afford those services.

4. I was angry because I’m tired – fundamentally exhausted – of peoples’ inability to see beyond their own lives.  I will be dead, probably in the next 40-50 years. The world isn’t mine – it belongs to those who will come after me, and my decisions should be what will be best for them, not me.  Everyone’s decisions should be based on what will be best for those who will come after us.

Those are the thorns I have to face today, in order to grasp tomorrow’s roses.  I have to look yesterday’s result, and the anger it called forth, in the face, and work out what and where the creative negativity is in all of this, and how to use it.

Firstly – anger is good, because its positive counterpart is passion, and passion is what gets things done. Passion is what keeps people turning up and giving 100% to a job, day in, day out, year in, year out, even on the tough days, the bad days, the days it would be easier to just stay in bed.  Passion is what keeps a couple together for half a century or more, despite the rows and sulks and stresses and broken crockery. Passion is what gets books written, funds raised, and, ultimately, passion is what gets worlds changed.

Secondly – knowing what you’re angry about tells you what you should be focusing your energy and time on. In my case, that’s promoting genuinely decent men, standing  up to bullies, and ensuring that intelligence is focused in practical, world-improving, life-enhancing outlets – the only way it will ever be truly respected.  My energy should be focused on promoting facts, as calmly, rationally, and relevantly as I can, on drawing attention to the genuine, decent, gentlemen that I know from personal experience abound, in finding ways to encourage boys to become men like me, men like my father, men like the friends I have, men like my uncle and his sons, and in finding ways to encourage girls to believe that they, too, are capable of leadership.

I may have to accept that “the world is what it is” – but I refuse to accept that I always and inevitably have to work with “what the world is” – if what the world is is unacceptable to me, and runs counter to the things I have decided to invest my time and energy in, then I will accept that “the world is what it is” – but I will actively work against the world as it is. Not through violence or criminal acts, but through the action of water against stone – washing over the stone of an unacceptable world with a quietly eternal countering force. Because the thing about water is, not only will it eventually wear down even the strongest stone, but it can also do something that is beyond stone – water can provide power, and sustain life.

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This Is Not My World

I am not an American, but I have American friends who are from minority ethnic groups, who are LGBTQI+, who suffer with long-term ill-health and/or physical disability, who are women, mothers of daughters, who are saddened, angered, and scared by what their fellow Americans have enabled.

I have a friend here in Britain, who was born here, to a British mother, who has worked and paid taxes since she was 18, whose husband has worked and paid taxes since he was 15, who has 4 children, all under the age of 10, and who had to listen to someone at the next table, while she and her husband were having breakfast out as he had a day off today, say “If Trump can get in in America, the EDL (English Defence League, a violent far-right group) can get in here – I’m going to vote for them next time.” My friend is Black. Her husband is white. She has two sons – mixed race boys who will grow up to be seen as “Black men.” And two daughters, mixed race girls who will grow up to face the racism and misogyny that is our world, now.

I am a transgender man with mental health issues.

My wife is a transgender woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Can you imagine how unsafe the world feels now? For my friends? For my wife? For me?

I attempted suicide after Brexit (the UK referendum on whether the UK should withdraw from the European Union, which returned a marginal “Yes” vote, mostly thanks to appeals to racism and bigotry, misinformation, and outright lies.

My wife is afraid I will try again, now. I would be lying if I promised her I wouldn’t.

I’ve spent today mostly in bed, drinking and smoking (I rarely smoke), trying to block out a reality I can’t stand the idea of without actually dissociating.

I’ve had to leave Facebook, because I was becoming too angry with people who refused to acknowledge the fear and distress their decisions had caused, who refused to accept even partial responsibility for my friend being afraid to leave her house now, for the American friend whose 8 year old daughter cried at the result, because she’d always believed bullies would be defeated – and then dried her tears, and put on her prettiest dress, a young woman of Mayan descent, a visible minority, standing up to the bully who wants to build a wall around people whose skin is a different colour to his, and who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sexually assault women.

I wish I had the courage and strength of that young woman, that young warrior.

For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to be a man, because of what “being a man” has now been agreed as meaning.

I am very far from stable right now. I want to kill people. I want to kill myself. I  want to run. I want to fight.

I lost a day of work because my brain couldn’t focus on anything but the sheer terror of the world I’m forced to live in.

I don’t know how I, or my American friends, my Black British friend, are going to cope tomorrow.

A month from Brexit, the Leave voters couldn’t tell you why they’d voted Leave, and many of them regretted doing so.

A month from now, Trump’s supporters will have forgotten why they voted for him, and have gone back to their everyday lives of bitching about everything.

Years from now, people like me, people like my wife, people like my friends, will still bear the scars of Brexit, the scars of a Trump Presidency. There can never be “business as usual” for us.

 

Acting in the Aftermath

So, the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU is over – the result, by a very narrow margin, was for Britain to leave the EU.

And the immediate results were ugly.

A Prime Minister resigning – meaning that people who voted “for democracy”, as well as everyone else, will be stuck with a leader they didn’t choose.

A surge in racist violence, racist language, and racial hatred generally – meaning that British people who were born here with a different skin tone, a different accent, people who have lived and worked here happily for years, who proudly called Britain “home”, are now fearful.

A groundswell of young people talking of emigrating – meaning that the workforce could be decimated, that immigration would HAVE to continue to fill the gap – in a society where people not of white British descent may very well NOT want to come to Britain to take up those jobs, preferring, instead, to go to countries that aren’t publicly and loudly expressing racist views. Meaning that those jobs would go undone – necessary jobs; service sector jobs, healthcare jobs, jobs in the “future industries” of, for example, technology.

And a hell of a lot of anger.

I was one of the people getting angry – very angry, in fact.

The immediate anger was reactionary, dysfunctional, emotional anger – it needed to be expressed, it needed to be acknowledged, both by those who were feeling it, and by those it was directed at, but, by its very nature, it can’t sustain itself for long. It will – is already starting to – burn out, slow down, fizzle to a fade.

What is left – the rose beyond the thorns of all that negative, dysfunctional rage – is the calm, logic-informed, rational, but no less intense, functional anger that gets things done. The anger that says “I will not be cruel, insulting, or dishonest in my anger – but nor will I stand for the continuation of that which made me angry in the first place.” Opposing functional angers can clash, and will cause creative destruction – breaking things, yes, but co-operating in putting the pieces back together in a way that creates something enduring, and acceptable to all parties.

Over at The Writer Cliveson, where I throw up my more personal writing, I discuss a bit about how functional anger relies on knowing what you – you the individual, you the company, you the nation – actually want, rather than simply what you don’t want, and how you have to accept that Utopia probably isn’t possible, but look at it, and through it, to find the parts of it that are achievable.

For me, the “achievable” parts of my Utopia were respect and dialogue. Those are the aims I will channel my (now) functional anger towards.